August 12, 2014 by Colin Moore
Perhaps you heard the story or saw the online photos of Straight Talk pro Scott Canterbury releasing a stringer of bass weighing in excess of 20 pounds during the second day of the Walmart FLW Tour event on Pickwick Lake.
Actually, it didn’t happen during the tournament, at least not during official hours. It happened after the second-day weigh-in that Canterbury didn’t reach in time. A vacuum hose detached, and the motor shut down. It was a simple fix, but Canterbury didn’t know it at the time. He’ll know better next time, but there probably won’t be a next time, at least not under the same circumstances. The Straight Talk pro and his co-angler, Mike McDonald, each had five-fish bags that weighed somewhere in the neighborhood of 21 pounds. They had to be towed in, and their catches were disqualified. Instead of landing somewhere in the top 10 with his limit and looking forward to at least one more day of fishing, Canterbury finished in 144th place.
When the fish went back over the side, Canterbury wasn’t so sure that his whole season hadn’t gone overboard with them. As the Pickwick tournament began, Canterbury was in 14th place in the yearly standings with another of his favorite fishing holes, Kentucky Lake, waiting at season’s end. Making the Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Murray was a walkover; finishing high in the top 10 was likely. Then came his reversal of fortune, and reversal in the important numbers: 14th became 41st. Suddenly Anthony Gagliardi wasn’t the only pro scrambling to play catch-up so he could qualify for the grand finale.
“It was a bad deal,” says Canterbury, of Springville, Ala. “I fell out of Cup contention at Pickwick, and I knew I had to catch them good at Kentucky Lake to get back in. I figured if I could finish in the top 40 or 45 I might be able to qualify. As it turned out, I needed to be somewhere in the top 35.”
Fishing in his comfort zone on the ledges of the big Tennessee River impoundment, Canterbury came in ninth and shot up 15 places in the standings to 26th. Next week in Columbia, S.C., he’ll join 44 other pros in what will be his sixth Forrest Wood Cup in seven years as a pro.
Canterbury’s annual appearance in the Cup has almost reached the level of foregone conclusion, though that wasn’t the case in 2010. Figuratively speaking, he was missing in action that year, the only year that wasn’t crowned with a Cup invitation for him. He wound up in 50th place in the standings.
“It was just one of those deals in 2010. I lost a lot of fish when they would have counted the most. I was the first man out that year – missed it by 6 points,” Canterbury recalls. “I lost a 4-pounder at Norman the second day and finished 51st. At Hartwell, I lost a 3 1/2-pounder the first day and a 4-pounder the next day. I can remember it just like it was yesterday, because it really cost me. Either one would have put me in the top 30. I can’t explain it, but I’m executing better now. My tackle is better.”
Certainly, Canterbury is also better. As his record over seven seasons suggests, he’s a blue-collar kind of fisherman who’s more of a workhorse than a show horse. If he were a baseball player, he would be the hitter who could be counted on for getting on base a lot, if not slugging a home run. If he were competing in an IRONMAN triathalon, he would be up near the head of the pack, if not setting the pace.
Although the Alabama pro has only one FLW win to his credit – a Rayovac FLW Series victory on Lake Eufaula in 2011 – he always seems to be in contention, dogging the heels of the leaders if not actually in the lead himself. He’s closing in on a million dollars in career earnings, is ranked ninth among Tour pros who have the most consistently high finishes and is 18th among pros with the most top-10 finishes – 11 of them in Tour events. After what was for him a dismal 2010 season, Canterbury scored a couple of Tour-level top 10s in 2011 and three in 2012.
His start didn’t portend his future. Canterbury stumbled coming out of the gate. In his first Tour event of his rookie season in 2008, he came in 158th at Toho. As if he shamed himself into fishing up to his potential, Canterbury then placed second in his next tournament, which was on Lewis Smith Lake, and third after that on Lake Norman. He’s made a good living from fishing ever since he has mastered the skill of focusing his abilities on one fish at a time.
“Versatility has definitely made the difference for me. There have been times where I didn’t do so well because it involved a style of fishing that I wasn’t good at,” says Canterbury. “But when I hit that wall, I work hard and try to get better so that next time it won’t be such a problem. I’m still learning; I guess most of us are.”
Canterbury went to Lake Murray during the Cup’s pre-practice period and found about what he expected: tough fishing conditions. “Tough” is something the former construction worker and business owner can handle, however. In fact, he’d much rather fish a tournament that’s challenging for everyone than an event where anyone might catch a game-changing lunker. Good luck is a factor that Canterbury can never count on. Instead, he relies on pure talent.
“I did more looking than fishing when I went over to Murray, and I wasn’t disappointed with it,” says the 38-year-old pro of his pre-practice visit. “I think it’s going to be a tough bite. But there are some good fish over there, and it’s going to take some key bites to do well. It’s going to be a grind, which is the kind of tournament that I like.”
Murray reminds Canterbury of another “blueback” lake: northeast Georgia’s Lake Lanier. In 2012, when Canterbury competed for the championship there, fishing conditions were similarly tough. The tournament was the high-water mark of Canterbury’s career, because he finished runner-up to Jacob Wheeler. In a sense, it was also a low point for Canterbury.
“The first day [at the 2012 Cup] I had about 16 1/2 pounds, and then Jacob came in with almost 22 pounds,” remembers Canterbury. “What it reminded me is that no matter how hard you work, there’s always somebody who is working just as hard or harder out there. Second place is good, but you still want to win. I want my name on that Cup plaque, and I’m going to have to work harder to put it there.”